Malaysia: During the Japanese Occupation, there were No UMNO Malays

October 6, 2015

Malaysia : During  the Japanese Occupation, there were No UMNO Malays

by Dr M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, Californa

M. Bakri MusaThe Japanese Occupation briefly interrupted British colonial rule. Japanese troops landed in Kota Baru in the early morning of December 8, 1941, and surrendered some 43 months later. That was only a blink in our history but to those who suffered through that terrible period, it was eternity. As brutal as it was, Malays as a culture and community survived.

There was one significant but not widely noted disruption and humiliation of Malay culture during that period. The Japanese, despite their reverence for their own Sun God Emperor, had little use or respect for Malay sultans. At least the British maintained the facade of respect even though those sultans were essentially colonial puppets.

The colonials saw in the institution of Malay sultans an effective means of indirect rule. The British knew full well the reverence Malays had for our sultans. The British must have learned a thing or two from observing kampong (village) boys herding their kerbaus (water buffaloes). Pierce a ring through the lead buffalo’s nose and then even a toddler could effectively control the herd by pulling on the rope tied to that lead beast’s ring.

That essentially was the British approach to controlling the Malay herd; pierce a ring through their sultan’s nose. The rope may be of silk and the ring of gold, but the underlying dynamics are the same.

The Japanese on the other hand totally ignored the sultans. They did not even bother going through a formal ceremony of “de-recognizing” the sultans. The surprise was not how quickly and easily the sultans ceded their power, rather how unceremoniously those sultans lost their honor and prestige among their own subjects.

I once saw a documentary shown in the village by the Information Department about the royal installation of the first Agong. He happened to be the Yang di Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, my state. The next morning I overheard a group of Malay women chatting with my mother. They were making fun of the pompous ceremony depicted in that film.

Those villagers did not see a Queen as the rest of the country did. Instead they saw their former fishing mate made pretty and regal. They remembered her only as a woman wrapped in her wet tattered sarong arguing over a fishing spot in the river during the Occupation. Neither pretty nor regal! My mother remembered her as particularly inept with her tanggok (fishing net). If not for the generosity of fellow villagers, the future queen and her husband would have starved during the Occupation.

Najib Tipu MelayuThe No 1 UMNO Malay

There was something else amazing about those shared fishing trips my mother and the other villagers had with the future queen, and that was the obvious absence of royal fuss or protocol. Only a few months before the Japanese invasion, those members of the royalty could with a click of their fingers command a villager to do their bidding. He would then have to stop whatever he was doing, stoop low, crawl towards the raja and express what a great honor it was to be a slave of the sultan! And if he were to inadvertently make eye contact with the sultan, may Allah have mercy on him for the sultan certainly would not.

All that royal pomp and ceremony together with other elaborate palace rituals vanished overnight under the Japanese. The remarkable thing was, and the villagers did not fail to notice this, how quickly those former royals adapted to their new plebian status! They were not above bickering over a coconut or their favorite fishing hole.

The Japanese also had a profound effect on the behavior of ordinary Malays, especially the youths. Once as a youngster a few years after the war, my father and I were strolling in the village when we encountered a bunch of unemployed Malay boys hanging around and making a nuisance of themselves. Behind them was an abandoned field covered with overgrown brush.

My father commented that such a scene would have been unthinkable during the war. Those idle youths would have been conscripted and sent to work on the infamous Death Railway in Burma, never to return. So everyone, especially able-bodied young men, knew better than to loiter. Likewise the owners of idle but otherwise tillable land; they risked being punished and their land confiscated.

Yes, the Japanese did all those terrible things, scaring young men to go into hiding. However, boys will be boys; they will defy authorities despite the cruelty of the punishments. Indeed if you keep the young repressed for too long, they will eventually blow up, as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia recently, and what Malaysia is now experiencing.

The Japanese were smart enough to go beyond simply meting out cruel punishments. They set up many vocational training centers and those youths eagerly enrolled. Whether that was out of passion for learning and acquiring useful skills or merely fear of being caught idle, I know not. Perhaps both! Whatever it was, they became highly skilled.

My cousin, an unemployed teacher during the war, took up carpentry. He became sufficiently accomplished to build for his family a fairly decent house. Another villager became a tailor, and he continued his business after the war. Yet a third became a radio repairman and later expanded into heavy equipment, a skill he learned from the Japanese. All those young men became productive, each with their own enterprises. There were no GLCs or a benevolent government ready to employ them; they started their own businesses.

UMNO MalayThe Fun Loving Malay

As revealed in a recent History Channel documentary, P. Ramlee’s talent was first discovered and honed while attending a Japanese Naval College in Penang. To “catch” these young men, the Japanese used the ruse of giving out free movie tickets. After the movie those young Malays were then led to waiting trucks to be sorted according to their abilities. Young Ramlee was fortunate not to be sent to work on the Death Railway. That was a tribute to the Japanese skill in spotting talent.

During the Japanese Occupation every square inch of tillable land was cultivated. Even poor soil was tilled, to grow the hardy ubi kayu (tapioca), a cheap but not very good source of starch and calorie. Consumed too much and you would get beri-beri from Vitamin B deficiency. Similarly, every inch of the rice field was cultivated. Had the Japanese discovered short-season rice then, there would have been double and triple plantings per year.

Malays worked very hard then; there were no “lazy natives” despite all the produce going to the Japanese. The consequences of being idle were too horrendous to contemplate.

Even my father, who always complained of how difficult it was for him to learn English, quickly became facile with Japanese and proficient with kanji. The reason for my father and other Malays becoming fast learners was clear; the very effective Japanese teaching technique – learn, or else! That “or else” was the most powerful motivator!

As for our cultural values during that terrible period, I refer readers to that wonderful movie “A Town Like Alice,” based on Nevil Shute’s novel of the same title. It is the story of a group of British women who were abandoned by their husbands in the rush to escape the onslaught of the Japanese. Those women later found refuge in a Malay village and were subsequently adopted en mass by the villagers.

Earlier I mentioned my Chinese-looking friend. In the villages today there are plenty of such individuals of my vintage, especially women. Their parents had given them up during those trying times. Those were the lucky ones.

The Chinese were not the only ones to do that; so did some Europeans. They willingly gave up their babies and young ones to escape the Japanese unencumbered. There was the spectacular case (spectacular because she triggered a deadly riot in Singapore after the war) of Maria Hertogh or Nadra Binte Ma’arof, depending upon your biases and sympathies.

Tan-Sri-Mohd Ali Rastam

Ahmad Maslan at Red Shirt eventThe Malay Racists

Her Dutch mother gave her up for adoption to a Malay family during the war. When it was over she tried to reclaim her child who by now had become fully attached to her adopted family. The ensuing ugly court battle spilled into the community, pitting the natives against the ruling colonials. In the end the ruling colonial trial judge followed his tribal instinct instead of the evidence presented, and awarded custody to the biological mother. In so doing the judge ignored the now important sociological concept of parenthood.

Han Suyin’s gripping novella Cast But One Shadow, though under a different setting, re-chronicles that drama.

The Japanese Occupation, terrible though it was, offered many useful lessons. It also revealed many positive and resilient aspects of Malay culture. For one, as mentioned earlier, there were no lazy Malays then; we were all very productive. For another, as can be seen from the movie “A Town Like Alice,” even during times of severe deprivation we maintained our values and willingly shared whatever little blessings we had with others, including those who were once our oppressors.

There is one other significant aspect to the Japanese Occupation now forgotten but nonetheless bears highlighting. That is, the Japanese effortlessly destroyed a significant part of Malay culture – our institutions of royalty. The Japanese did not purposely do so; they simply found no significance to the sultans and simply ignored them. Yet our culture and society survived. That should tell us something of the value and utility of these sultans.

Today when I see these sultans and other members of the royal family lording it over the rest of us, I wish someone would kindly remind them of their fathers’ and grandfathers’ fate during the Occupation. If that could happen then, it could happen again. Such a reminder might just curb some of their excesses.

Malaysia’s Newest Joke: Najib gets a Hero’s Welcome

October 5, 2015

Malaysia’s Newest Joke: Najib gets a Hero’s Welcome

by Bernama

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak returned home today from a working visit to Milan and New York, with more than 1,000 people greeting him at the Bunga Raya Complex, KL International Airport (KLIA).

Najib Tipu MelayuWira Tipu Duit Negara

The special aircraft carrying the Prime Minister and his wife, Rosmah Mansor touched down at 9.55am. Supporters had arrived at the complex as early as 7am to welcome the country’s Number One leader.

They carried banners and posters bearing the words “Selamat Pulang Wira Negara dan Keamanan Sejagat” (Welcome Home National and Universal Peace Hero), “Najib Razak Pejuang Keadilan Terhadap Palestin dan Umat Islam” (Najib Razak Fights for Justice for Palestine and Muslims), “Allah Selamatkan Najib Allah Selamatkan Palestin” (Allah Protects Najib, Allah Protects Palestine) and “PM Najib Help Palestine, Save Syrian Refugees, We Are With You”.

Najib and Kaki AmpuNajib and Kaki2 Ampu Bodek

Others greeting the Prime Minister on his return were Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, cabinet ministers who included Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak, Health Minister S, Subramaniam, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and senior government officials.

Najib had gone on a three-day working visit to Milan from October 2 to boost bilateral ties between Malaysia and Italy. While in Milan, Najib attended a Malaysia Day reception at the Expo Milano 2015, which was arranged for by the expo organisers on Saturday and later visited the Italian Pavilion at the expo while in the evening, he launched the Malaysian Food Festival at the Malaysian Pavilion at the expo.

Before visiting Milan, Najib was in New York, the United States of America to attend the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with the theme ‘UN at 70: The Road Towards Peace, Security and Human Rights’ on Oct 1.

Outside the assembly, Najib who was leading a delegation which also comprised several cabinet ministers, had bilateral meetings with several heads of government and national leaders attending the general assembly.

At the 70th session of the UN assembly, Najib was among the leaders who spoke at the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda on Sustainable Development and also the Meeting of World Leaders on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

Najib also delivered a speech at the Summit Meeting of leaders on Mantaining Peace and also on Preventing ISIL and Extremists’ Violence which was chaired by United States President Barack Obama.

In his speech, the Prime Minister announced that Malaysia would open the door to 3,000 Syrian refugees within the next three years to ease the refugee crisis. The other matter focused by the Prime Minister while in New York was promoting Malaysia as an attractive investment destination during his meetings with American business and industry leaders.


Going soft on Light, Raffles, Swettenham and the Lot

September 30, 2015

Going soft on Light, Raffles, Swettenham and the Lot

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

francis-light-monument-25826140Sir Francis Light of Penang

The British later replaced the Iberians (Portuguese and Spaniards)  and Dutch in Malaysia. Those colonialists carved up the Malay world among themselves, with Malaysia fortunately falling under the British while the larger archipelago going to the Dutch and the Philippines to the Spaniards.

I say “fortunately” considering the fate of the Indonesians and Filipinos. For whatever reason the British were much more benign, or less malevolent. Among the consequential differences, while our Indonesian brethren had to fight for their independence, Malaysians opted for the more civilized and considerably less traumatic route of negotiations. While Malays still harbor fond memories of their former colonial masters, with more than a few being unabashed anglophiles, no such sentiment exists among the Indonesians for the Dutch, or the Filipinos for the Spaniards.

Raffles Sir Stamford Raffles of Singapore

The British legacies in Malaysia were significant, among them a first class civil service, an independent judiciary, and an school system that later proved fortuitous with English becoming the language of science and commerce. The British also introduced rubber plantations. The country is still reaping the economic bonanza from that initiative.

Again here, the credit for the positive consequences for this particular colonial encounter cannot go entirely to the British or the Malays, anymore than the blame for the fiasco in Indonesia could be heaped upon the Dutch or the Indonesians. Instead the answer lies with the unique dynamics of the interactions.

While Malays had plenty of derogatory caricatures of the Dutch, no such epithets existed for the British. Perhaps the British had perfected the art of indirect rule while still maintaining their tight and uncompromising grip.

Whereas with the earlier encounter with the Muslim traders our acceptance of and integration with them were both “down-up” (from the peasants and rising up to the aristocrats and sultans) and “up-down” (from the rulers downwards), with the British it was strictly up-down, from the sultans to the rakyats.  Because of the feudal nature of Malay society, the transformation was rapid.

It could be that the British found kinship with our Malay system of nobility and felt compelled to preserve it. Granted, our Orang Kaya Di Hilir Perak (Wealthy Lord) is not quite on par socially, intellectually or wealth-wise (despite what the title implies) with the Earl of Lancashire, nonetheless the social pattern and dynamics remain the same.

Frank SwettenhamSir Frank Swettenham

The British were wise to appreciate that a system of subtle indirect rule was more in tune with the halus (refine) ways of our culture than brute occupation a la the Dutch or Japanese. The British charade was greatly eased by their heaping honors on our sultans, such as the Knighthoods of some ancient British Order or the occasional invitations to Buckingham Palace.

This was the same insight that General MacArthur effectively used in postwar Japan, except that he did not feel compelled to honor the Japanese Emperor with a Presidential Medal of any sort.

The British must have learned a thing or two from observing how our grandfathers controlled their buffaloes.  Tie a rope to the ring through the nose of the lead bull, then even a toddler could control the herd. The ring may be of gold and the rope spun of silk, but the underlying dynamics remain the same.

Although the Malay masses did not embrace the British colonials with as much enthusiasm as we did the earlier Muslim traders, we were not entirely hostile either, at least not to the level the Indonesians had for the Dutch. There were scattered armed insurrections and a few colonial advisors assassinated, but for the most part we were quite docile under the British. The British not interfering in matters pertaining to our faith (leaving that entirely and exclusively to the sultans) may have had something to do with our resigned acceptance of their rule. We did not protest much even when the British inundated the country with immigrant laborers from China and India.

Of course the British had to justify bringing in those hordes of indentured laborers; thus was born the myth of the lazy native. To put things in perspective, this unwillingness of the natives to take on dirty scud jobs in their own country is not unique to Malays. How else to explain the glut of Indians in Britain, Turks in Germany, and Mexicans in America?

It was only after the children of those tin mine laborers and rubber tappers became lawyers and doctors, having benefited from the superior education afforded by the colonials, did Malays become concerned that their country would soon be taken over by these immigrants.

Some would argue that those same superior colonial educational facilities were also available to Malays. This myth, like others, had just a tinge of truth to it to be accepted by many as the all-encompassing explanation for Malay educational laggardness during colonial rule.

penang-free-schoolYes, there were schools. The first was Penang Free School (PFS) that despite its name was not free. In addition to tuition fees there were other substantial ancillary fees. Being located in the city, for rural Malay students there would also be the additional and substantial costs for transportation. Urban-dwelling immigrants were spared such expenses. In my case back in the 1950s, nearly 150 years after the setting of PFS, bus fare was the single biggest cost for my schooling, far exceeding the cost of tuition, books, and uniforms.

It did not help that the British built just enough schools to sooth their social conscience after raking in obscene profits from the country. It would have helped entice Malays to enroll in these English schools if they had been named after our heroes and sultans, or in any way pay homage to our cultural sensitivity. Instead those schools had names like King George V School and Victoria Institution.

Just to make sure that Malays got the message that they were not welcomed, there were the Anglo-Chinese Schools. It was not coincidental that there were no Anglo-Malay Schools.

st-michael-institutionMost were not government schools but set up by missionaries expelled from China. They were eager to continue their evangelical mission among the Chinese, only this time in Malaysia. Such schools sported names like Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. The surprise was that there were still Malay parents who willingly enrolled their children in such schools, as with the parents of the wives of the second and third prime ministers

Then there was the colonial mindset that fervently believed that the best education for Malays would be one that would allow us to continue with our subsistence living as peasant farmers and fishermen

If all of those were not enough, then there was the attitude of Malay parents who thought that sending their children to English schools was tantamount to turning them into brown Mat Salleh (White Man) and, horror of horrors, Christians. They would then sport such names as Matthew and Thomas instead of Mahmud and Tahir.

Those conditions created the perfect storm that prevented Malays from partaking in modern Western education. Later, when we realized that our children and community were left far behind, we suddenly became aware of our precarious situation in our own country. Then we started looking at those immigrants who hitherto had been content confining themselves to the tin mines and rubber estates in a radically different light.

Sultan Ibrahim of Johor Sultan Ibrahim of Johor

The Malay reaction to British colonialists could best be described as grudging accommodation, in marked contrast to our earlier enthusiastic embrace of Muslim traders. Our pseudo or resigned acceptance of British colonial rule was smoothed over by the willing co-operation (or more correctly, co-optation) of our elite, especially our sultans. The most unabashedly anglophile was the late Sultan Ibrahim of Johore (above). He must have loved the English very much; he married at least two of them.

If there were to be any segment of the Malaysian community that unabashedly embraced British colonialism it would be the so-called Queen’s Chinese. That term today sounds odd and quaint. They were the early Chinese immigrants who settled in the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. They easily assimilated into British colonial society, complete with their billiard playing and brandy swirling which seemed so out of place with their mandarin dresses, conical hats, and black pigtails.

Like the Sultans, these “Queen’s Chinese” were opposed to Malaysia’s independence. Unlike the sultans who kept their opposition silent, those Chinese were very vocal. There were also many Malays who were similarly not too enthused about independence, in particular Dato’ Onn Jaafar. His opposition however, was not with the principle but the timing, feeling that the country was not as yet ready.

In many ways the Queen’s Chinese embrace of colonialism was akin to the earlier Malay acceptance of Islam. Those Chinese successfully integrated into colonial life while maintaining at least outwardly their Chinese traditions. Consequently they were among the most successful communities at the time of independence.

We can only speculate as to the reasons for the muted Malay reaction to British colonialism. Perhaps our earlier enthusiastic embrace of Islam “immunized” us against the subsequent influences of similar monotheistic faiths. Or perhaps after our earlier sour experiences with the Portuguese and Dutch (typified by the expression “Dutch deal”) the British looked so much more tolerable in comparison.

At any rate it was enough for a critical commentator at the time, Munshi Abdullah, to lament what it was that made Malays not in the least curious and eager to learn from a society that was so far ahead of us. We were not even in awe at how British minds could build such wonderful things as a steel warship. They could make steel float! This lack of curiosity prevented Malays from taking advantage of what the colonials had to offer. And they had a lot!  We would subsequently pay dearly for that neglect.

Good Monday Morning to All

September 28, 2015

Petaling Street 2Good Monday Morning. The Moon Cake Festival is behind us. But I trust you had a good time in Petaling Street, Kual Lumpur. Now let us listen to some suggestions from our Comedy Court duo on how to tackle our social ills in Malaysia. May our Prime Minister who is having R&R in New York at our expense (and who is expected to be away from his awesome  responsibilities for at least 10 days) find some comic relief from watching these videos.

Those red shirts jokers are too serious fighting unseen enemies of our country who are defaming the Malays. Malay dignity must be redeemed at all cost. Defending the dignity of their UMNO leader is indeed a noble act in the name of Hidup Melayu. Financially rewarding to the Ikan Bakar Jamal too. Jangan kutuk dan hina YAB Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak lagi. Enough is Enough.–Din Merican

Congratulations to my Young Malaysian Friend–Dr Anas Alam Faizli

September 25, 2015

Congratulations to my Young Malaysian Friend–Dr Anas Alam Faizli

Anas AlamHaving academics as parents, Dr. Anas Alam Faizli believes that education changes lives, promotes social inclusion and equity and, brings about economic growth and progress. The importance of education is well ingrained in the family’s psyche. Anas especially holds on to the compelling words of his late grandfather – treasure education, avoid hostility and be a person who brings benefit to society.

Anas grew with the University, spending more than six years completing his master’s and doctoral degrees, an experience that he found truly rewarding.

“Doing the doctorate is a very personal thing for me as I believe that every one of us can be an agent of change. Education must be given priority because the country can move forward only with a capable and knowledgeable workforce.”

His family all attended the Convocation to celebrate his successHere are  some excerpts of the speech he gave during OUM’s 17th Convocation:

“Higher education is an impetus for establishing a civic-minded society. As a nation, we are currently at a crossroads. Our tertiary education penetration levels are still lacking compared to that of developed nations!”

Anas graduated with a DBA

“Prof Dr Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, also known as Hamka, repeatedly wrote in his literary works that life is a struggle. Life is a fight. We cannot choose the challenges and obstacles that we will face in life. However, we can choose what to equip ourselves with, to help us in facing life’s challenges and struggles.”

“Fellow graduates here, including me, have chosen to equip ourselves with an education from OUM and we are proud of our choice. We have now earned ourselves a scroll, a piece of paper which will amount to nothing, nothing, if the experiences garnered along the way are not used for the benefit of society.”

Giving his speech

“We are duty bound to provide light and guidance to others where possible. Every one of us needs to rise to the occasion and shoulder this responsibility!If there was one message I would like you to take away from today’s speech, it is – Be the candles that light the way for society. Be a leader for your family, your community, in the workplace and outside. Make your voice heard.”

Introducing our First Unelected Prime Minister in our 58-year history

September 10, 2015

Selamat Pagi Malaysia–Introducing First Unelected Prime Minister in our 58-year history

RM the first unelected PMREAD: Dr. Grace Mugable could be the next President of Zimbabwe:

The time has come for me to introduce to all my readers and friends around the world (in 206 countries) Malaysia’s First Unelected woman Prime Minister. Grace Mugabe of Zimbabwe is not alone . It has taken me a considerable lapse of time to do  this since I need credible evidence of her role. I am grateful to the brave PDRM Special Branch officer, Bekas Timbalan Pengarah Cawangan Khas  Dato’ Abdul Hamid Bador  who revealed that Her Excellency Rosmah Mansor actually made all the decisions in the Najib administration.

Diversity is MalsysiaFreedom–We must fight tyranny and corruption

It also confirmed what a former Minister who I met recently at a friend’s daughter’s wedding told me that since the day he took office in 2009, Najib never made decisions. I presume then  that some body was making the decisions with the Cabinet acting as the rubber stamp. I also recalled that Her Excellency once said that she read all Cabinet papers.

Our Member of Parliament from Pekan is just a zombie driven by some extraordinary spirits. That being the case, we should not blame Najib Tun Razak for the mess we are in today. Forgive him for he knows not what he is doing. Instead, now that PAS under Hadi Awang has common cause with UMNO, I urge its Spiritual Leader, Dr. Harun Din ( هراون بن دين) who gifted with special healing powers to help UMNO President Najib Razak.–Din Merican